icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

‘Haiti is dying.’ What’s happening now and how you can help

Image of car with bullet hole in windshield, with woman, back to camera, holding child.

A woman with a child walks past a car hit by a bullet in the street, as Haitians forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in port-au-prince, Haiti on March 9, 2024. Photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

A woman with a child walks past a car hit by a bullet in the street, as Haitians forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in port-au-prince, Haiti on March 9, 2024. Photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

Earlier this year in Haiti, armed gangs mounted coordinated attacks on police stations, two of the main prisons in Port-au-Prince, the international airport, and numerous other sites. The level of violence since then has been unprecedented.

According to the United Nations, the crisis has forced 580,074 people – half of them children – to flee their homes. A multinational security force arrived yesterday, but its success is far from certain.

Guerda Previlon and her organization, Initiative pour le Developpement des Jeunes (IDEJEN), have been working tirelessly in real-time to meet the moment.

According to the IPC food classification system, more than 4.97 million Haitians are acutely food insecure, 1.64 million of whom are experiencing emergency levels of hunger, just one step away from famine-like conditions. Moreover, with only 20 per cent of health facilities functioning normally, the violence has decimated the country’s health system.

“Haiti is dying,” says Previlon. “Regarding security, regarding food. We need to find a way to help the families at least have access to food.”

Supported by CARE, IDEJEN helps displaced families at about 20 sites in Port-au-Prince. She gave her assessment of the situation and the need in a recent conversation.

* * *

What role do local organizations play in responding to crisis?

Whenever there is a humanitarian crisis in the country, local groups play a significant role because they are the ones who are on the ground. They are the ones who know best the situation of the communities; the reality of the country. And those are the ones best placed to provide assistance to the people in need.

Most of the humanitarian organizations, when the situation gets [dangerous] in the country, they leave the country.

Guerda Previlon

With this crisis, most international humanitarian workers have evacuated, leaving behind massive amount of work and challenges.

What is the current level of support you are seeing for Haiti’s humanitarian needs?

So, 14 years ago, after the earthquake, there was a big mobilization — a lot of international NGOs on the ground to help support. But three years ago, in this crisis in Haiti, I haven’t seen the same mobilization, the same motivation to support.

 I have also not seen improvement [in] reinforcing the capacity of local organizations. That said, from my perspective I can say that there has been some positive movement. For example, when I think about CARE and the support they have provided: fighting to have civil society, local organizations sitting on the humanitarian country team. That means we have a voice, we can talk, we can explain the situation of the people in the country.

Haitians have been forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. March 9 photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

But when there is some funding coming in for the humanitarian country team, we don’t see local organizations benefiting from this money. This funding goes, again, to the international organizations, and they, by themselves, select some small organizations to provide some support to.

I do not see any progress in trying really to reinforce the capacities of local organizations to undertake assistance, a role in trying to localize the humanitarian response and also to provide more assistance to people in need.

So that’s why people in the community don’t have a good impression of the impact of humanitarian assistance in Haiti. They will tell you that international organizations come, they do what they have to do, then they leave the country.

What is your organization about and what kinds of things do you do?

We are involved in education, especially non-formal education, because we are working with out-of-school youth… We’re working also with women’s organizations, trying to provide them with competencies to be able to play a leadership role in the country.

We are also involved in research and study, because whenever there is a crisis, whenever there is a big event, we want to know exactly the situation, to have a response that’s adapted to the real needs of the population. We are also involved in everything that is related to life-skill education for all the groups: in term of conflict resolution, in term of violence prevention, sexual harassment prevention, gender equity, etcetera, and also health and reproductive education for young people.  

We are a national NGO because we are working in all 10 regional departments of the country. We partner with USAID, with UNICEF, with CARE, with UN Women, and Episcopal Relief and Development, as well as other organizations that have some projects in Haiti, that have the same philosophy as us.

How do you see the situation in Haiti right now?

Our most important need now is security — security for the country. This is the most important. We cannot do anything until we re-establish security in this country, because now we are blocked. For me, sitting in Port au Prince, it’s very difficult for me to go now to the countryside: roads are blocked, roads are controlled by armed gangs and it’s not safe at all to go to the countryside. That situation has an impact on all the living conditions of the Haitian people now.

We need to be able to do our work, to go where we where we want to go in a secure way. We cannot do that now.

What can you not do because of the security situation?

Sometimes we need to reinforce our capacity. We need equipment, materials, we need training for our staff and we cannot easily find trainers in the suburbs. …So, it’s difficult. It’s difficult even trying to provide funds to the team, because we need to go through the banks. But often the banks are not operating. So, our teams sometimes cannot access cash. Sometimes they can’t even find food where they are. The main port is in Port-au-Prince and is closed, so we cannot even bring food to them in their regional areas.

CARE Haiti distributes cash to food-security program participants at Mont-Organisé in Haiti’s Nord-Est (Northeast) Department in April 2023. Photo: CARE Haiti

And in the outlying regions they cannot transport their goods to sell to Port au Prince.

Our purchasing power has decreased tremendously. Then using technology, using the WhatsApp network, is not easy because the network doesn’t work when there is no electricity.

What is the situation like right now for displaced people? What are you seeing at the sites?

Most of them are in dangerous areas. So usually, the families go to schools, as well as government buildings, or sometimes churches. But this infrastructure was not built to accommodate families, to accommodate girls, to accommodate children, to accommodate mothers. You see all the families in the same room, in the same yard, all together. One sanitary block for everybody. The showers are for everybody.

In terms of basic needs, there’s not enough potable water. Sometimes there are some international organizations providing water, but it’s not on a regular basis. Food is not provided on a regular basis. Sometimes, they say they have to wait five or six days to find food. We are in the rainy season, so every night it’s raining and in the morning. It’s flooding in those sites, so they are fighting to evacuate the water.

People must leave the sites to find care to address their different health conditions.

CARE is supporting us to share information, to help us with education and disease prevention. Sanitation is so bad; cholera can come back at any time. We try to provide information for families. We do demonstration activities with families, to show them good sanitation practices, for example, the importance of hand washing.

We also try to help them to protect themselves, to protect children against violence from the gangs, because the gangs are in the camp. The sites are managed by committees and most of the time, the gangs control the committees. So, whenever you have humanitarian assistance, the gangs control it and give it to whoever they want to. This means sometimes the families in the temporary displacement sites are not benefiting from this assistance. So, the general environment is not really a place where children or families can live.

We have also been supporting some families, some mothers and their children, who want to leave the sites. We ask them if they want to go back to the regions where they are from. So, we provide them with transportation costs and some food allocation to help them to go back to the countryside. We already, with the support of CARE, provided 100 families with support to go back to the countryside.

Is there any particular story that has stuck in your mind from the displaced people you have met?

Every family that we encounter in temporary displacement sites has a story, and there is one that caught my attention. There’s one woman who has at least two children. She was running a small business to generate income for her family, and her husband also had a small business in the community where they were living.

When the gangs came to this community, they drove them out of their house, stole all the goods in the house, then burned it. The husband had a small car he used as a taxi. So, they took the taxi from the husband, then they killed the husband in front of his wife and two children.

Now this lady with the children has nothing, nothing at all. We met her in a temporary displacement site we are supporting. She doesn’t know what to do because her husband is dead, there is no commercial activity, no place to stay. And she doesn’t know when the situation will be improved, what she will find, what kind of help she will be able to get. This just shows you the level of terror, the level of violence in this country and the impact of this violence on families.

What can you tell us about the hunger situation now?

In Haiti there are no jobs; there is no employment, even in the non-formal sector there is nothing. Families are fighting on a daily basis to survive. Food is very expensive.

There is no way for these families to have income. In the main town of PaP they burned many stores, many factories, etc. Many places burned down places were providing some jobs to people. And [the gangs] stole everything from those families.

Have you seen anything that gives you hope?

We think there is hope because we are there. We are trying to do something. But we don’t know when the situation will be improving. The situation remains very complicated and volatile right now because we don’t have any support. We are fighting by ourselves to survive on a daily basis, to see how we can feed the children, to protect ourselves, to survive.

We have been so happy to work with CARE because CARE shares the same philosophy as us: trying to help people in need, especially [working] to reinforce the capacity of women’s organizations to face this situation and to be able to support other women and girls in the whole community.

CARE in Haiti

Back to Top